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Did You Know

It's surprising how little the public knows about the world below us.

Sure,everyone has a basic idea about what caves are about and that stala-watchama-callits and bats are kinda around,but once you're keen to do and know more, where do you go from there? Obviously, there are hundreds of sites available on the web at a click of a mouse, but we intend keeping this proudly South African. Articles will be written on a regular basis and hopefully will generate interest and a greater awareness of our underground heritage.

ARTICLES

STOP PRESS : A Bull in Bat Cave
Strange but true - read the story and see the newspaper picture of the bull who fell into Bat Cave in 1986

What animal can fly with its hands "see" with its ears AND sleep hanging upside down?
Of the 977 species of bats found in the world (making up a quarter of all the mammal species), 216 species are found in Africa. There are 51 species in South Africa alone working to keep mosquitoes from bugging you.

A Trip to Swaziland in Search of Caves
As guests of Swazi Tourism, Wild Cave Adventures guides exploring caves in Swaziland with the hopes of opening up ecotourism ventures for the community.

The Weird and the Wonderful - a record of unusual formations found in our caves
Forget the "Bold and the Beautiful"...on various excursions, Wild Cave Adventures guides and photographers have found unusual and exquisite examples of various formations.

How are Speleothems formed? (Microsoft Word Format)
What grows down under the ground? This introductory article aims to shed some light on a dark subject....

A Few Tips on taking Pictures in South African Caves
If you have ever tried to take photographs underwater or underground , you will know how difficult it can be to get decent shots. From water vapour to bad lighting to dust-all the odds are against good photography. In an introductory article, read how our 'resident' photographer, Garfield Krige gets it right!

Cave Life

There are amazing creatures that have adapted to living underground. Read about the different areas of the cave and the animals that are found there and take a look at pictures - one being that of the elusive cave spider(greatly magnified) - taken in some of our caves.

 

Terms Definitions Example
Troglobites Literally "Cave Dwellers" that never/cannot leave Blind shrimp
Troglophiles Literally "Cave Lovers" that are versatile creatures completing their life cycle either in caves or on the earth's surface. Spiders, cave crickets , millipedes
Trogloxenes Literally "Cave Guests" that cannot complete their life history in the cave. They use the safety of the cave's environment and leave periodically to forage for food outside. Bats, bees, flies and 'miggies', cave-nesting birds
Incidentals Can enter caves only occasionally. Porcupines, snakes, frogs, scorpions, owls, baboons, humans.

 

Walk into a cave........ the dark and quiet passageways may appear devoid of life.

BUT

first impressions can be deceiving, and surprisingly, biologists have discovered many species of animals living in caves!

 

Animals in caves include everything - from surface animals that have accidentally stumbled or tumbled into the cave, like the snake and frog in our pictures, to many species of animals that have adapted to life in the darkness.

To a biologist, a cave is a wildlife sanctuary, a retreat for animals so specialised in structure and habit that they cannot endure conditions on the surface.

To understand the survival techniques of cave animals, we need to first take a closer look at three environmental factors governing caves.

A cave has its own cycles and rhythms of life

First of all, the cave world does not change as rapidly as our sunlit world;

however, change does occur.

The temperature of the cave varies due to air movement near the entrances, the location (on ridges or in valleys), and the temperature of water entering the cave.

In a sense, the cave has its own weather system.

Wind is created by temperature differences between the entrance and interior passageways. This causes a "chimney effect," resulting in
a wind chill factor underground. The chimney effect can also produce "rain" inside the cave by altering the dewpoint.

The final contributor to cave weather is the barometric pressure outside the cave, which creates a "breathing" effect inside the cave as the outside pressure rises and falls. Barometric changes affect air movement, humidity levels and dew points.

Subtle weather changes in the cave make it possible for a perceptive caver to discern outside weather conditions, even though he or she may be dozens of meters below the surface.

A cave is intricately tied to the outside world

A cave is different from our world, but the survival of cave life depends on the surface.

Plants, through photosynthesis and through their own decay, release carbon dioxide that combines with water in the air and in the soil, to form weak carbonic acid that carves the cave.

In addition, plants provide food and energy for underground animals. No matter how organic material enters the cave, the web of the cave begins with the sun.

A cave's animals have to adapt to survive

Therefore, cave animals must make behavioural, physiological, and morphological adaptations to survive.

TROGLOBITES

This is a group of cave animals most highly adapted to cave life, that cannot survive outside caves.

Many, including blind shrimp (see above), illustrate creative adaptations to their environment. With no need for camouflage or protection from the sun, many of these animals have lost pigmentation and are white. Some have no eyes. Most have developed other highly sensitive sensory organs to detect predators and prey.

Because food in caves is scarce, full-time cave dwellers tend to be smaller, with lower metabolism and longer life spans than their surface counterparts.

The lifestyles of all cave animals highlight the fragility and interconnectedness of the surface and the cave environments.

Ultimately, the energy that feeds cave animals comes from the surface.

In addition, land use practices impact water quality and the life forms in the cave. Even visitors entering the cave impact the underground world.

Lighting, trail construction, building unnatural entrances, and noise from cave tours, affect the residents of this sensitive and fascinating underground world.

TROGLOXENES

Some animals, called trogloxenes (or cave visitors), regularly visit or hibernate in caves but customarily leave caves.

By collecting food on the surface and then returning to caves, trogloxenes play an important role in providing food for cave animals that never venture outside.

Bats, cave crickets, cave-nesting birds(see the picture of the owl chicks below) and some rodents are trogloxenes.

As insect-eaters and plant pollinators, bats may be among the most beneficial animals to people and other living things.

By consuming huge numbers of insects, bats work as a "natural insecticide," controlling crop pests and insects that may spread disease.
In addition, many cultivated plants depend on bats for pollination.

Despite their value, many species of bats are needlessly threatened - by direct killing, by vandalism, by disturbance to hibernating and maternity colonies, by the use of pesticides, and by habitat destruction.

Consequently, bat populations throughout the world have been declining dramatically.

Even the smaller trogloxenes play a huge part in a cave's ecology and are extremely important in delivering energy, in the form of droppings,
eggs, and carcasses, to other animals in the cave.

TROGLOPHILES

Another group of cave animals, the troglophiles (or cave lovers), have evolved a step closer to cave dependency than the trogloxenes.

Troglophiles can survive for their entire lifetime in caves, but they can also live exclusively on the surface, where they select cool dark places reminiscent of the cave environment.

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